Care and Feeding

The Grandparents Are Having a Knockdown Fight Over Who Are the Favorites

They’re all keeping score of whom the grandkids prefer, and to make it worse, one pair is clearly winning.

One set of grandparents holding a balloon, facing another set of grandparents holding a child's hand and shrugging.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Dean Mitchell/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m dealing with a serious case of grandparent competitiveness that started even before my first child was born and has only gotten worse. When I told my parents I was pregnant, my dad’s first reaction was literally, “If I am not the favorite grandfather, then I would rather not be a grandfather at all.” My parents, especially my father, aggressively keep score on how often we see my husband’s parents compared to him, which holidays we spend where, and which presents my kids play with most. Everything is a competition to him, and to make it worse, he is losing.

My in-laws are very kind, caring, generous people who travel quite frequently to see us. My parents, on the other hand, do not travel to see us very frequently. Part of it is not their fault; they are both still working while my in-laws are retired. Additionally, my parents do not have extra income and my in-laws are fairly wealthy, so they can afford to invite us with them on trips, pay for our flights to see them, etc. We also live closer to my in-laws, so it is just logistically easier to see them.

My parents think that we have been “bought” by the in-laws, which of course is not true in the slightest. However, my in-laws are not blameless. They pretty openly gloat that they are the preferred grandparents (which is kind of true, but no need to brag about it), and they seem to expect that we will spend all of our holidays and vacation time with them, and will pout when we see my family instead or insist we see them right before or after.

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to agree to visit anyone or have them visit us because I am afraid of the other side’s reaction. I don’t know what I can do to make my parents and in-laws behave better and stop keeping score. I don’t want to stop seeing and talking to them, but I can’t handle the jealousy anymore! I want to take a stand and spend Thanksgiving and Christmas alone this year, but my husband is not on board with that.

—A Grandparent Headache

Dear AGH,

Considering how likely it seems that we may all find ourselves in a shelter-in-place situation for much longer than people may wish to believe, your holiday situation may be less stressful than you’re anticipating, though that doesn’t solve the bigger problem.

Have a conversation with each set of grandparents individually and let them know that you are tired of how they’ve been behaving. Explain that it is obvious that they—whichever couple you are speaking to at the moment—are the “favorites,” but that this isn’t a contest and they really ought to let go of the competition considering that, again, it’s painfully obvious that the children are closer to them.

That’s right: Let them both think they’ve won the contest that isn’t a contest at all and that they need to drop the whole thing out of consideration for the lesser grandparents who are doing the best they can.

Your parents may be a little surprised by this information. Ask that they please keep it to themselves, of course, but that presents simply cannot compete with all the things that make them the coolest grandparents around. As for your in-laws, who are bold enough to state that they are the faves, explain that while your children are closer to them, it hurts your parents to hear that and ask that they please keep the gloating to themselves. Do your best to balance time out between the two families and if you can, contribute toward helping your parents visit more frequently than they have.

—Jamilah